The Jewish Chronicle
Lord Justice Leveson
AMID THE procession of celebrities giving evidence at the press standards inquiry, one man has dealt with his place in the limelight with great composure. Insiders expected nothing else of Lord Justice Leveson, the judge leading the investigation into phone hacking and unethical behaviour in the media.
He has made several forays into public debates and, despite his appointment as chairman of the inquiry, the 62-year-old judge has not always been on-message with the Prime Minster.
Sir Brian Leveson was born into a Liverpool family and has been described as a “devout” Jew. He was certainly spotted munching bagels with legal colleagues at a Chanucah party last year.
Educated at Liverpool College and then Merton College, Oxford, he was called to the bar in 1970.
His rise was rapid. He had a successful 25-year year career as a barrister working on both criminal and civil cases in his home city, becoming a QC in 1986 at the age of 37.
He enjoyed contrasting fortunes in his two highest profile cases, successfully prosecuting serial killer Rose West in 1995 but failing to secure the conviction of comedian Ken Dodd in 1989 on charges of tax evasion. Dominic Carman, son of Dodd’s defence counsel, George Carman, wrote earlier this year that “the Liverpool comedian rang rings around the Liverpool barrister, rebutting the serious allegations with a mixture of sincere outrage and quick one-liners. In response, Leveson manifestly lacked humour. To borrow Ed Miliband’s phrase, he didn’t get it.”
Of course, one failed cross-examination does not cloud an otherwise highly successful career and a propensity for wisecracking is not exactly a primary qualification for the current inquiry.
The only disquiet about his involvement emanates from attendance at two parties at the house of PR executive Matthew Freud, whose wife is Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth. Labour MP Chris Bryant said this made it “very difficult to see how Lord Justice Leveson can be seen to be independent”. However, Sir Brian’s office insisted that David Cameron had been informed of his attendance and had raised no objections. Since his appointment as an Appeal Court judge in 2006 and Senior Presiding Judge in 2007, he has not shied away from engaging in public debates. This year he took the unpopular decision to defend a district judge who had been severely criticised by David Cameron, among others, for imposing what was perceived to be a lenient £50 fine on a man who, to the horror of many, publicly burned poppies on Armistice Day. In a BBC radio interview, he said: “The judge had to balance the insult caused to those who were respecting the two minutes’ silence against the right we all have to express ourselves freely.”
As head of the Sentencing Council, he also had a hand in the reforms proposed by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke which were dropped in the summer amid another media firestorm.
He can expect his own private life to come under scrutiny by the very newspapers that his inquiry is investigating. They seem unlikely to be able dig up anything spicey, however. He has been happily married to his wife Lynne for many years, and has three sons.
In 2007, He told an interviewer: “I go to Tesco’s and I have teenage children… I don’t live on a rough estate but otherwise I keep my feet on the ground.”
THERE ARE few quiet weeks at the Jewish Museum. This one is particularly busy as I’m hosting the Association of European Jewish Museums annual conference. It’s the first time it’s been held here and a chance for delegates from 53 sites around the world to see our new venue, which reopened last year after a major transformation.
The museum provides education programmes for 13,000 children a year. On Wednesday, I join local schoolchildren on a tour of the exhibit. I can’t stay as long as I’d like as I need to make final touches for the conference, but it’s inspiring to see how engaged they are, asking lots of questions and taking a real interest in Jewish life.
The AEJM board members are joining me at my home for Friday-night dinner. Luckily, my husband Danny takes charge of the catering — more his forte than mine.
Saturday night sees the opening reception, including a view of our special exhibit, Entertaining the Nation, on the Jewish contribution to British entertainment. I hand over to historian David Cesarani, who gives the inaugural lecture on the conflicted heritage of Jews in Britain. Both lively and informative, with a few laughs thrown in for good measure — the conference starts in style.
I’m up early for Sunday’s keynote speech by Professor Barbara Kirshenblatt-gimblett, one of the world’s leading Jewish cultural commentators. Then it’s my presentation on our approach in developing new exhibitions on Jewish life and history. I’m pleased that several members from my own team are also speaking. The entire conference congregates at the Bevis Marks restaurant for dinner, buzzing from the day.
On Monday, we take the delegates to see other Jewish collections in London, including the British Library and the Freud Museum. It’s easy to forget the richness of Jewish culture in London. That evening, I return to the museum where one of our trustees is hosting an event. Unlike other European Jewish museums, we receive no government funding, so support from Friends and donors is crucial.
Tuesday and the conference is in full swing, with talks from museums in Bratislava, Moscow, Vienna and the USA. I have mixed emotions — it’s my last conference after three years as president of the AEJM, but I’ve very much enjoyed my tenure. I’m proud of what we’ve done to build co-operation between Jewish museums, improve training, and reach out to new members, especially those in Eastern Europe — many of whom are learning from the more established Jewish Museums across the Continent, which is great to see. I’ll miss the role, but I’m looking forward to working on an exciting programme at my own museum. Rickie Burman is director of the Jewish Museum London